• “The truth” in reference to worship: A good example of our misunderstanding of “the truth” is when this phrase is used in reference to worship. Throughout the years we have heard the common and misleading use of “the truth” in order to lay a foundation for a self-righteous system of law-keeping in reference to worship. This system of truth is often based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus said in John 4:23,24:
“But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”
We sincerely want to be “true worshipers.” However, in our zeal to worship God “in truth” we have established a meritorious system of worship that is contrary to the entire theme of both Romans and Galatians, and thus, contrary to the gospel. For example, in order to identify ourselves as “true worshipers,” we often establish a legal system of “true worship” that can be identified by the performance of certain “acts of worship.” In other words, if the acts of this true worship are meritoriously performed every Sunday, then we assure ourselves that we have worshiped God in “truth.” We are even so arrogant to say that those who do not worship according to our legally defined “truth” of systematic acts of worship are not true worshipers.
As the Holy Spirit previously pronounced through Paul that no one can be justified before God through law-keeping, the same principle applies to our worship. But on this matter we have contradicted the Spirit by establishing what we consider to be “the truth” (a system of law) in reference to true worship. If any of the points of this “true worship” are violated or omitted, then it is supposed that one’s worship is not true. We are also quick to judge those who would be so presumptuous as to add to our legally defined system of “true worship.” In believing and behaving in this manner, we have established our own self-righteous worship, and thus have unknowingly denied the grace of God. We forgot that Christians are under grace, not meritorious law-keeping (Rm 6:14).
We have also forgotten that worship pours forth from a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude (2 Co 4:15). When we worship around the Lord’s Supper, remembering God’s love for us spurs us on to love: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge that if one died for all, then all died” (2 Co 5:14). John was so strikingly clear on this matter that he proclaimed, “And by this [our love for one another] we will know that we are of the truth [of the gospel], and will assure our heart before Him” (1 Jn 3:19).
When we speak of true worship, it is not a matter of how, but why. We must focus on why we worship before we ask how. If we feel that we have sorted out the “how,” but ignored the “why,” then our worship is empty, void, and often vain. We find ourselves going through worship rituals, and thus feel empty after the “closing prayer.”
• The rise of judges: Unfortunately, our systematic theology on what is considered a legal system of “true worship” has encouraged us to be judges of others in reference to their worship. If others do not worship according to our legally-defined “true worship,” then they are worshiping God in vain. Even on the surface, with a novice study of the grace of God, we can perceive that there is something very wrong with this reasoning.
If one worships God from the heart, then what gives us the right to judge the hearts of others in reference to their worship? The problem is that we have established a systematic legal performance of supposed actions of worship that are fabricated from an arrangement of selected scriptures. Our “true worship” is thus according to our formulated legal statutes of law, and not according to a heart of gratitude in response to the grace of God. In other words, the fact that we have become judges of the worship of others is evidence that we have establish a self-righteous legal system of worship by which we judge the worship of others. We judge the worship of others according to our improvised standard of laws that we have outlined as a definition of “the truth” in reference to worship. We have forgotten that true worship can never be the performance of a set of rules. Cults do this, but not Christians who live in gratitude of the grace of God.
Our legal systematic acts of worship, therefore, encourage us to be judges of the worship of others. But James would shock us into some reality on this matter. He asks every “worship judge,” “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (Js 4:12). If our legal system of “truth” in reference to worship inspires us to be judges of others in their worship, then our “truth” has made us lawgivers by which we would judge others. If we are honest with ourselves, we will conclude that there is no standard of law that we can use to judge the hearts of people in reference to worship. We can be only fruit inspectors, for by their fruits we will know them (See Mt 7:16,17).
This does not mean, however, that we should not allow the word of God to guard us from following after the doctrines of demons in reference to worship. The word of God is our guard against vain worship. True worship is governed by the word of God. We know God only through His word, and thus we know how He would be worshiped according to His word. Those who have no knowledge of the word of God will fabricate man-made systems of worship. What we are trying to do is to guard ourselves from using the word of God to fabricate a legal system of law that we presume to be the identity of a system of worship that is considered true. But it is simply true that worship cannot be legislated by law.
[Next in series: Jan. 8]